View Full Version : Looking for a versitile "budget" field camera

3-Mar-2019, 08:44
I've been using a Bender 4x5 camera to do some large format photography. I quite enjoy it and it's fun to work with, but it has some limitations for the kind of photography I'd like to do. In particular, it is a real pain to travel with, and the bellows only compress so much, making it pretty much impossible to use a lens shorter than about 130mm, a 120 is just barely usable under duress. I have 90mm, 120mm, 180mm and 210mm lenses. I've got it in my head it'd be good fun to get a field camera that would work with the 90, 120 and maybe 180mm lenses, that I could take out hiking, etc. I don't really want to spend more than about $1,200 on a camera body, but also looking for something that won't require too much futzing. I've been thinking of something like an Intrepid 4x5 mark 3, a Shen Hao, or perhaps used. Just curious if anyone else has made a similar purchase or have suggestions.

While I'd like to get something with even more pedigree like a Toyo, it's out of budget at the moment!

3-Mar-2019, 09:37
A Shen Hao TZ45-IIC is a great value camera for the price and if you are willing to spend enough to get a TZ45 then I would recommend it over the intrepid, it is a solid and versitile camera.

BUT, be aware that although they are available second hand (just in case you see one going cheap) there has been a small change in the design which is worth mentioning.

The front standard on the camera has base tilt with the option to unlatch lens plate holder frame so the bottom of the frame can axial tilt forward, this extends the overall reach allowing the bellows to expand to maximum length. The problem with this type of system is that the unlatching of the frame from the plate holder uses some tilt which is just a little too much for landscape focusing using axis tilt. Shen Hao have recently overcome this little problem by allowing the tilt to come out backwards as well as forwards therefore making it easy to make very small adjustments from the vertical like tilting the lens down 1 or 2 degrees. This is not immediately apparent when you look at pictures of the camera online unless you know what you are looking for but it makes a difference when focusing.

If you look at the differences between the front standard supports on https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shen-Hao-TZ45-IIC-Folding/dp/B01N5QLEW0 (Revised version) and http://www.shen-hao.com/PRODUCTSabout.aspx?i=952&id=n3 (The older version). See the difference between the two verticle supports holding up the front standard?

Make sure you get the new version with the channel type and not the flat bar type like the picture on the Shen Hao website which has not been updated yet.

I bought the original one with the flat bar support and had to notch it myself to allow the bottom of frame to escape backwards, now focusing is very easy instead of having to use base tilt only I can swing the frame back past vertical to it's max and unlatch the lens board frame the forward tilt it. The penalty of doing this is you loose a sliding parralel rise and fall - some re-adjstment is required if using rise or fall after changing the tilt but hey ho!

3-Mar-2019, 09:48
Are you limiting yourself to only new cameras? It seems like $1200 would be plenty to buy most used field cameras. There was a very nice used Tachihara 4x5 in the classified here not long ago...I think you could buy two of those for $1200 (even when they were still available new).

Louis Pacilla
3-Mar-2019, 11:13
Are you limiting yourself to only new cameras? It seems like $1200 would be plenty to buy most used field cameras. There was a very nice used Tachihara 4x5 in the classified here not long ago...I think you could buy two of those for $1200 (even when they were still available new).

I could not agree more with BradS but folks LOVE NEW stuff. I'll take a mint used LF camera for half the asking price of NEW and buy film/chemistry w/ the cash I save.

Mark Sawyer
3-Mar-2019, 11:37
For a lot of us, "new" is anything younger than us...

3-Mar-2019, 11:46
I really like the look of the Tachihara (https://kenrockwell.com/tech/tachihara.htm), and this review (https://kenrockwell.com/tech/tachihara.htm) says a lot about it.

Doremus Scudder
3-Mar-2019, 12:10
I own seven 4x5 cameras at the moment. None of them cost me anywhere near $1,200. I bought used, waited for deals, and made sure the condition was good before I bought. I have two Wista DXs (which would work well for you with a recessed lensboard; I use 75mm-300mm lenses on mine), a Wista SW (my go-to camera for architecture shots now; it's basically a DX but with interchangeable bellows), a Zone VI late-model field camera (takes 450mm lenses, but is kind of big for my purposes), a Horseman Woodman (lightweight, but limited in movements; still, I used it a lot in Europe), a Sinar monorail and an old Graphic View II (that still gets used a lot; it's a real workhorse).

The point is, you could likely have your choice of two of the above for the amount you're willing to spend. Take time and shop wisely and you'll find a deal.

I'd recommend the Wista DX or DX III (not the DX II that doesn't have shift), the smaller, lighter Tachihara models (some of them are pretty big and bulky, so do your homework here; there's a specifications page on the web somewhere), the Chamonix cameras (lots of flexibility and bellows draw, but maybe a bit fiddly) and even the Woodman if you don't need a lot of rear tilt. My personal opinion; don't get a camera without shift on one of the standards; front or rear, it doesn't matter.

There are a lot of metal press/field cameras out there too, Toyo 45s being popular. Many of those would be in your price range as well.



3-Mar-2019, 13:57
Are you limiting yourself to only new cameras? It seems like $1200 would be plenty to buy most used field cameras. There was a very nice used Tachihara 4x5 in the classified here not long ago...I think you could buy two of those for $1200 (even when they were still available new).

Yeah, I buy most of my lenses and gear used. I guess I'm just looking for the (relative) ease of use of new for this. That said, you make a really valid point, I do see a lot of good view cameras come up for sale.

3-Mar-2019, 15:29
I could not agree more with BradS but folks LOVE NEW stuff. I'll take a mint used LF camera for half the asking price of NEW and buy film/chemistry w/ the cash I save.

I'm definitely not a guy that needs everything new, but definitely looking for something in really good shape or new. I'm a tinkerer, but for this I'd really prefer something that I can get out and start working with.

Sadly a really good used camera shop in Ottawa closed a few years ago... if they were still in business I'd definitely be going there to see what they had in stock.

3-Mar-2019, 16:17
For wide ranging focal lengths I am happy with Sinar's economy Alpina (or A1) with a type-2 bag bellows. They usually come with the typical, longer excellent bellows as well.

3-Mar-2019, 16:51
I've had two Toyo field cameras and can highly recommend them. We hiked with them for years. Works with lenses from 65 to 240. I was just on eBay and there are a number under $1000.

A couple of things to look for:
-- The camera came with two focus stops on the bed. If one or both are missing it could be a sign the camera was not well cared for.
-- More importantly look at the condition of the bellows. There is a bit of a trick to folding up the camera and if it is done wrong it can stretch and distort the bellows. So look for pleats that are even and regular with no bends on the sides. And of course, look at the bellows corners to see that they are not worn or frayed.
-- They come/came with a couple different backs - revolving or not. I don't see any particular advantage to a revolving back (adds weight) but you DO want to make sure the back is a Graflok back. This allows you to remove the spring-loaded back and attach roll film holders.


3-Mar-2019, 16:59
Hmuessig: for around the $1k mark or whereabouts, do you think the Toyo is a better option than say the Chamonix F-2? About the same price, but new (not saying better because itís new, but you donít have to worry about bellows, etc), and a bit lighter, all movements youíd need are likely there.

3-Mar-2019, 17:09
Lots of counties have a weekly actual paper flyer that lists wanted and for sale ads. Here in Connecticut we have the Yankee Flyer. Used to run wanted ads every now and then. One time got a phone call from someone who had 2 vintage Vespa scooters in parts that she wanted to pay someone to take away. Offered her some money for them, but she refused. She was just happy to get rid of them. Also multi dealer "antique shops are prime for finding LF equipment. One time acquired a 5x7 Linhof camera, lens, and holders for I think under $20. Little while back there was a generic 4x5 field camera for about the same price. Went back a week later and it was gone.

3-Mar-2019, 17:19
Kiwi, I don't have any experience with the Chamonix cameras.

That said, they look like very nice cameras. Certainly lighter than the Toyo and with more direct movements (rise, fall, shift) than the Toyos (though indirectly you can do quite a bit). I do wish the Toyos had a universal bellows like the Chamonix.

If I was looking today I'd certainly look at the Chamonix!

9-Mar-2019, 04:55
There are a number of used Toyo 45A's for sale on ebay from Japanese sellers for around $700. I'm in Canada and I've found the Japanese to be very meticulous in their descriptions, and the import hassles are certainly no worse than buying out of any other foreign country.

Jim Jones
9-Mar-2019, 09:25
Long ago I was influenced by the opinions of reviewers and owners of the most respected cameras. With decades of experience I can do more with much less. My most often used large format cameras were cheap Speed Graphics and Burke & James. A better example comes from comparing photographs of the White House ruins at the Canyon de Chelly by Ansel Adams in 1941 and by Timothy O-Sullivan from about the same spot almost 70 years earlier. Despite the difficulties of reaching that spot, preparing a glass plate negative, and capturing the subject with equipment of that age, I prefer the O'Sullivan photo http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3g03874/.

John Kasaian
9-Mar-2019, 09:37
IIRC there is a Toyo up for auction at shopgoodwill.com
It looked a little rough though.

9-Mar-2019, 15:13
Older model Linhof Technika.
Much lower than $1200, solid and workhorse field cameras for many top professionals for decades.

Leszek Vogt
9-Mar-2019, 15:49
Just saw several models on KEH....all below 1200.


9-Mar-2019, 16:03
Begin where many LF photographers end up - with few modest perspective control movements. No need for twisted acrobatic perspectives as shown in silly adverts. Simplicity will spare you major grief and money.

For me, a 73 year-old, I have come to appreciate a camera with neutral detents. From there we may make decisions.

Welcome and enjoy!

9-Mar-2019, 16:16
If you're after something that does 75-240 with modest movements, a 4x5 speed graphic pacemaker or similar age crown graphic might do the job. I use a speed graphic for hiking.. Prices range from a couple hundred to several hundred based on condition.

9-Mar-2019, 16:38
A Sinar F2 is probably the best deal in large format. I've bought two 4x5 F2's through this site for under $350 ea! Probably a little more at auction. L

9-Mar-2019, 17:05
Google images: sinar f2 folded
you will see some images of the F2 folded up and taking little more space than a field view but offering a lot more in stability and ease of making movements. Nice thing about the Sinar F2 over a wooden field view, is that you can zero out all the movements with precision... a big plus when using lenses that barely cover the format.

10-Mar-2019, 18:11
I ended up ordering a Wista VX, which hopefully will make do for some long time to come!

The Chamonix looks great, and I still might get an intrepid at some point. While the intrepid might be cheap, people do seem to make some fine images from them and I do like their cheep and cheery nature.